Yes, you can buy OTC (over the counter) or “self-prescribed” antibiotics to treat a specific bacterial infection. And you should only take them if your doctor gives you the green light and if no other medication is available.

Before using these medications, it’s important to understand their risks and benefits so that you can make an informed decision.

Anyone with a bacterial infection must first be diagnosed by a doctor before self-medicating with OTC antibiotics. Self-prescribed antibiotics are not effective against viruses, such as colds and flu. If you have a virus, they will do nothing.

On the other hand, they do help against bacteria which is why they are able to treat specific infections such as sinusitis, strep throat, tonsillitis and bladder infections among others.


Tetracycline is a broad-spectrum antibiotic that can treat bacterial infections of the stomach and intestines, bladder, tonsils, skin and respiratory tract. Tetracycline can also treat bacterial infections of the teeth and gums. It is not recommended for children under 8 years old or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Tetracycline is an antibiotic that works by damaging the DNA in bacteria and killing the bacteria. Tetracycline works best in a low-pH environment. So the inside of our mouths and stomachs have a low pH and are an ideal place for tetracycline to work.

How do they work?

Most OTC antibiotics contain a mix of ingredients with different purposes. Although broad-spectrum antibiotics (ones that fight several types of bacteria) are considered the first line of defense against infections, they should never be used as a single treatment.

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Many other ingredients, including pain relievers and various anti-fungal agents, are often added to OTC antibiotics. Some common ingredients in OTC antibiotics include:

  • Penicillin – a common antibiotic used to treat a variety of bacterial infections.
  • Cephalosporins – another type of antibiotic that is usually used as a single-dose treatment for urinary tract infections and skin infections.

Potential risks of taking OTC antibiotics

When antibiotics are used appropriately, they can help fight infections. But many people don’t use them correctly, which is leading to antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change so antibiotics no longer work against those bacteria.

OTC antibiotics can cause antibiotic resistance by being misused. Any time you take antibiotics, you’re exposing bacteria to them, which can lead to resistance.

The more often you take antibiotics, the more likely you are to develop bacteria that are antibiotic-resistant. This could lead to a serious illness in the future. You may have heard about MRSA or C-Diff, two types of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are very serious.

MRSA: Staphylococcus aureus is a type of bacteria that can cause skin infections, pneumonia, and blood stream infections. MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. MRSA is a bacterium that is resistant to many antibiotics.

MRSA can be spread by close contact with others who have this infection, as well as by touching objects that have been touched by an infected person.

C-Diff: Clostridium difficile is a bacterium that causes intestinal infections in people who are being treated with antibiotics. C-Diff may be found in the gastrointestinal tract, but it does not cause disease in healthy people.

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C-Diff is spread through the fecal-oral route (i.e. when someone touches something contaminated with feces and then touches their mouth).

C-Diff can be transmitted from one person to another by coming into contact with objects or surfaces contaminated with feces from an infected person.


Ciprofloxacin is an antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections. Ciprofloxacin is commonly used to treat urinary tract infections, pneumonia and infections of the skin, bones and joints. Ciprofloxacin could cause a serious allergic reaction.

Ciprofloxacin could cause nerve damage, muscle weakness and paralysis. Ciprofloxacin could also cause ringing in the ears, dizziness and loss of hearing.

Ciprofloxacin could also cause changes in your heart rhythm that could lead to an abnormal heart rhythm or a cardiac arrest.

Ciprofloxacin should not be given to pregnant or breastfeeding women. Ciprofloxacin should also not be given to children under the age of 18.

Clarifying the facts about OTC antibiotics with Dr. Oz

DR. OZ: For starters, don’t confuse OTC with “no prescription needed.” You can buy these medications on a retail basis, but they must still be prescribed by your doctor. But even if you do have a prescription, in the case of an urgent situation, it can be easier to just walk down the drugstore aisle, find the right product, and take it right there.

But there are some caveats: If you can’t finish the entire course, you’ll lose some of the benefits. If you don’t take the full dosage, you could actually make your condition worse. And if you don’t take them correctly, or you try to treat a viral condition, like a cold or the flu, with an antibiotic, you can actually make the overall situation much worse.

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Bottom line

Antibiotics are a critical part of modern healthcare and have saved countless lives. They’re also one of the most widely prescribed medications around, with an estimated one-third of people being prescribed antibiotics at some point over the course of a year.

In many cases antibiotics are essential for treating serious bacterial infections and can be life saving, but sadly they are also widely misused.

As we’ve seen, there are many valid reasons to take antibiotics. Moreover, they’re very useful against bacterial infections like tonsillitis, sinus infections, and bladder infections. However, antibiotics are not effective against viral infections like colds, the flu, and most coughs and sore throats.

If you’ve been prescribed antibiotics by your doctor and are unsure how to take them, don’t hesitate to ask for advice. If you’re thinking of self-medicating with OTC antibiotics, it’s important to carefully consider the potential risks and benefits.

The Team

The team is composed of doctors and few students in their final year of medicine who have decided to popularize and share their knowledge.